Saturday 26 April 2008

Is it the HSE or our own priorities that are upside-down?

Was it in 2001, or 2002? I know I was living in north Mayo, but I forget exactly when it was that I took myself off to the village doctor about the thing in my nose.
Much like the rest of you, I might before leaving the house for an important social engagement just quickly check in the mirror to make sure my nostrils are not sporting any lemon meringue pies. 'Twas on one such voyage of visual exploration that I noticed my left nostril was about 80% blocked by a 'something'.
Hmm, thought I. If my nostril was 80% blocked, maybe I was losing out on 80% of that nostril's ability to draw oxygen.
Like, like, like it might be inhibiting the release my genius, man.
Our village doctor was a charming young Son of the Father Doctor, with time to chat, an acerbic wit and a permanent tan the like of which has rarely been seen north of Castlebar.
Apparently my 'something' was called a 'polyp', and nothing to be worried about. I could have it removed, but equally, he warned I should be aware that no invasive procedure was completely without risk, and one thing sometimes leads to another.
Secretly marvelling at his resisting the urge to go for some crass joke concerning illegal industrial action and pickets, I thanked him for his advice, and agreed that the sensible step would be to see an Ear Nose and Throat specialist; and so my name went onto a waiting list.
(Cue music: )
DUM dum dum de DUM.....
I heard nothing.
(Cut to the beginning of February this year.)
Oooh look, I've got a letter from the HSE.
"We are now in a position to offer you a consultation at a Private Hospital, under the National Treatment Purchase Fund, the cost of which will be covered under the NTPF."
It took me a wee while to spot it, but it somehow made perfect sense that the letter was printed upside down on HSE letterhead.
I wondered if that was the Health Service equivalent of a filing system?
(Scene: HSE staff meeting.)
'Right, lads and lasses, here's the story. The ones we pass on to the Private Sector, right, we write to upside down, right? That way we know what's what, right?'
Calling the freephone number to arrange an appointment for a consultation, I talked with an effusive and lovely woman, who treated me as if I had just saved her baby's life.
"Thanks so much, Charles. You need do nothing. We'll let them know, and they'll let you know. Thanks a million, yes, thanks for calling us."
Why was she so grateful? Bizarre.
A few days later I received another letter from the HSE, and was slightly saddened to read not the time of my new appointment, but rather an almost identical letter to the other, with a few less sentences; oh, and this one was printed the right way up.
Poopers. No appointment, and my HSE filing theory shot to ribbons!
No matter, because the very next day I received yet another letter from the HSE (also printed the right way up: those efficiency drives are clearly really kicking in!). This one told me that my nose had been transferred to a private hospital, which would contact me to arrange an appointment in due course.
That's all right. Although I'd like a professional opinion, my nostril's intake-of-air-to-effort ratio has thankfully improved substantially.
No rush. What's seven years between nostrils?
All of the blather written and spoken about the Irish Health Service can basically be split into two schools of thought.
There are those who believe Mary Harney has an impossible job that nobody else can do; that nobody else wants to do. They believe she is strong, brave and forthright in the face of great adversity.
Others believe she is a megalomaniacal Thatcherite spawn, on a mission to make the health service unworkable, so that, by comparison, the Private Sector looks preferable in every way.
Readers of this colyoom are offered another perspective, which offers you a positive and personal way to wrest yourself from this problem, and become part of the solution.
There are two extremely simple reasons why the Irish Health Service is in such a terrible state.
The first is so self-evident I cannot believe whining politicians are yet to exploit it: there are just not enough taxpaying adults in this country to support a health service as enjoyed in more densely-populated European countries. England has 60+ million people, and Ireland has 4.5. T'ain't rocket science.
The other reason we have such a degraded, under-equipped and under-resourced health service is not the fault of any government. It's your fault, and yours and yours.
Yes, this government is guilty of dumping the responsibility for the nation's health and welfare into their creation, the HSE. Akin to the Exorcist's possessed teenage daughter, the HSE is truly horrific, the unnatural C. Difficile Winter-Vomiting MRSA Ward Closing Cancer Test Mistaking People Dying On Trolleys Love Child of the Progressive Democrats and Fianna Fail.
But governments do not exist to try to mend health services; they want only to win elections.
Each time we have an election, instead of demanding better pay for nurses; better hours for doctors; more beds on wards; more CT and MRI scanners, you vote for the party offering you the fluffy glossy lifestyle of more HDTVs, more PCs and SSIAs. Gimme the shaaany shaaany things and the free money. Hoo hooooh yeh! You have to love that free money from the government!
The great thing about a collective health service is that it is just that: down to us. A national health service cannot and should not be a distant separate entity to our own lives. We cannot decadently spoon the cream of our collective wealth over the yummy scrummy delights of a luxurious consumer society and then expect that our arteries will be scraped clean at the drop of a hat.
Until we take full and active responsibility for our own health, and choose to financially support through higher taxation the places and people we turn to when we need to save our lives, then the mess is of our own making, and whether you see Mary Harney as a political pioneer delivering us from waste and excessive bureaucracy, or a crazed stubborn rodeo rider atop a mad cow of a beast, it makes no difference at all.

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